Innovating for Innovation: a new strategy

By Dr. William Cowie


Innovating for Innovation:
A new strategy for Canada

by Dr. William Cowie

What does Innovation mean for the decades ahead?
Emerging disruptive technologies, environmental degradation, climate change and growing inequalities require a new approach to growth and change and to measuring economic performance that must address the triple bottom line – People, Planet and Profits. Value in such an economy is not just what can be produced commercially but includes preserving what is valuable environmentally and what people value esthetically. Innovation in this whole-of-society approach is anything that creates value and improves the triple bottom line. It is not just about goods but about institutions and the way we organize ourselves. With this agenda it is not ‘steady as she goes’ it is about transforming Canada to meet the challenges of a shared future. It is about being bold and…..innovative.
Much is said about an Innovation Policy these days but there is little clarity or little agreement on what it includes. The following is listing of all the issues that comprise a robust innovation agenda, and will thus create some clarity on the issue.
Objectives of Innovation
An Innovation strategy needs to include the following objectives:
• Promote transformational development over growth i.e. growth with structural change
• Address the school-employment interface
• Oversee the digital transformation to maximize citizen benefit (Broadband Everywhere)
• Promote a strategic approach to investment and trade
• Restore the role of science and address the value creation issue
• Modernize bureaucracy
• Reconcile resource development with environmental protection – sustainable development
• Modernize Canada’s Infrastructure while maximizing new technology opportunities
• Continue to improve health care and health sciences
• Being more inclusive of women in innovation and promotion
• Harness the ‘Aboriginal advantage’ – a people long committed to the triple bottom line

Specific programs
Some of the specific government programs and policy actions to advance innovation are as follows:
• High speed broadband as a public utility
• Improving data and analysis
• Sector investment funds
• Direct support over tax credits for RISME’s
• Strengthening and re-designing IRAP
• A CMHC for Small Business Start Ups
• Advancing the role of women in innovation, science and technology

Skills development and regulation
In order to fully benefit from innovation we need to address some key skills and regulatory issues:
• Investing in Key Skill Areas
• Entrepreneurship Training
• Realigning Manufacturing
• Balancing Resources and the Environment
• Environmental Regulation
• Labour flexibility and distributed risk
• Resource Development: (all sectors but especially water and energy)

Community and Social Development
A range of community and social development issues will advance innovation:

• Social Transformation
• Supporting women and immigrants
• Opportunities for the Disabled
• Community Enterprise (Community Resource Development Councils)
• Advancing the Co-op Sector
• Health (including for Indigenous People in Remote Communities)


The following is more information on areas of innovation policies that can be advanced.

A. The National level
Key domains and institutional initiatives for priority attention will include:

• Broadband Everywhere project for Cyber leadership and smart grid – smart infrastructure: New funding and a stronger leadership role for CANARIE; and an E-Science Leadership initiative for Canada’s key R&D organizations
• Independent/Stand Alone Coordination Agency and Innovation Portal to oversee the various support programs, speed up and facilitate processes, record progress and monitor results is essential to building and maintaining an innovation culture.
• Specialized Centres such as a Green Chemistry Centre established near Universities to offer a more integrated and comprehensive approach to the taking of ideas from University research labs and entrepreneurs in order to push them out into industry.
• National and sectorally focused educational initiatives, together with federal-provincial and industry collaboration modeled after successful international programs to develop youth S&T awareness.
• RISME business innovation: enhance and re-energize the NRC IRAP program and expand its reach more widely with a small/medium business innovation incentive modeled after the successful US SBIA Program and with stronger end-user focus.
• For SME’s generally, A CMHC for Small Business Start Ups to bridge the gap between start-up and revenue generation to facilitate higher business success rates and that would offer easy access to training, mentoring and networking.
• Re-designed open-architecture government innovation support and funding programs as exemplified by the recent re-design at SSHRC and the competition based approach of the US DARPA.
• Explore the use of ‘petty patents’, data base protections and ‘patent polls’ to protect SME’s while reducing IP impediments to university-private sector collaboration.
• Develop performance metrics for the sharing of returns and responsibilities in a network and user driven innovation environment.
• S&T and societal foresight-outreach: Integration of foresight analysis into program design and development in order to assess strategic needs, threats and opportunities to 2025;

B. The Sectoral level

There are various specific issues relevant in each of the main sectors relevant to an innovation policy.

• Education Sector

o Establish guidelines and funding mechanisms to ensure the universities are more comprehensive in their support under licensing agreements so as to ensure better commercialization outcomes
o Universities and colleges will need to be harnessed to developing the understandings, performance metrics and systems requirements capable of addressing valuations based on the triple bottom line
o Schools of Entrepreneurship geared to enterprise development in a networked world
o Skilled technical and business apprenticeships and immigration: to ensure we have the skilled persons necessary for the future, a new government should increase the focus on youth development and in seeking to attract the brightest students and retain their abilities for Canadian business, industry and government through direct funding mechanisms

• Technology Sector

o Convergent technology systems: and their societal impacts; new NRC and collaborative R&D applications focused programs to anticipate emerging new markets for smart devices in transportation, environment, military and security and energy and resource processing;
o National nanotechnology strategy and development – new materials development and regulatory strategy; being able to ensure Canada is in the front row of stage two development of a multi-Billion dollar industry, and that we are well aware of any dangers to human health and environment that might be encountered

• Resources Sector

o Energy and water innovation and resilience: Future energy and water systems are likely to have greater diversity, be more distributed, and characterized by multiple source conversion – cascades that provide added resilience from shocks and price fluctuations. If Canada is to continue to be a leader in global energy and water innovation and clean technology – source diversity, selection and integration it must become more proactive and collaborative with others less blessed with the full range of energy and water options available to Canadians;
o Future resource processing technology: learning from Scandinavia and Europe, and directing strategic incentives toward sustainable resource processing systems with leading edge equipment that can be designed, assembled or made in Canada in partnership with global leaders;

• Health and Social Services Sector

o Medical innovation systems and a Health Discovery Fund: national effort to identify and test – demonstrate the many new technologies and medical products including drugs that Canada will need to maintain and finance our universal public health system into the mid 21st century;
o Assert government leadership in E-Health and EMR systems development

The above initiatives are being proposed because they are indicative of the new engines for economic growth and they signal areas where lead time for R&D and commercialization is critical. Critical to getting Canada’s 2015 economy pointed in the right direction

Closing :
Action by the next government

The first priority for a new federal government must not only be providing new optimism and leadership for the economy as a whole, but also in signaling how our economy needs to be seriously re-adjusted and better equipped for change and growth to meet the challenges of 2015 and beyond.

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